Lessons for the Scene: Use the Foreground and Background to Provide Context by George Hsia

By George Hsia, www.georgehsia.com
 Figure 1
When trying to show a sense of placement, both geographical or environmental, consider the type of foreground or background that may enhance the context of the subject.
Foreground – The area in front of the subject. It contains valuable information that reflects the subject and can affect the mood of the image and the access the viewer has to the subject.

Activity or cropped forms can add a dynamic quality to the composition, even a sense of mystery.

Sometimes there is nothing in the foreground giving the viewer the feeling that he has direct access to the subject.

Space in the foreground can create a feeling of distance.

Shading in the foreground can create dimension. 

Background - The area behind the subject or the context where the subject is displayed. It can be a color, an out of focus area or a highly detailed scene.
Figure 2Steps to composing a photo
      Evaluate lighting and set camera accordingly
      Look for direction of light
      Choose subject
      Choose background
      Choose point of view
      Decide what to put in the photo and what to leave out
      Wait for the right moment
      Take the photo
      Is my horizon level? Should it be?
      Watch the edges. Are there distracting elements along the edges?
      Are there poles or other objects behind my subject placed such that it looks like it is growing out of my subject?
      Are there bright spots in the background or foreground that might take away focus from the subject?
      Are any eyes closed or do they have a silly expression?
What Do You See?
To understand more about composition look at photos you enjoy and ask yourself the following questions.
      How does the shapes, lines, and angles lead you around the image.
      Where is your eye drawn? To one thing or many things?
      Look at the way the forms work together. Do they create a pattern or a rhythm?
      Is there a prominent shape or diagonal?
      Is there a strong use of color?
What is the photo trying to tell you? 
      Is it trying to tell a story? 
      Show you a moment in time? 
      Is it trying to communicate a feeling or emotion?
Understanding how we see will help us compose photos and communicate our message through our own images.